Enhancing art history on Wikipedia with the Detroit Institute of Arts

For Jessica Allison of the Detroit Institute of Arts, participating in Wiki Education’s recent Art History Wiki Scholars course presented the opportunity to improve Wikipedia articles using sources at her fingertips – the works housed in her museum’s own collection.

To find her starting point, Allison assembled a comprehensive list of works in the museum’s collection that related to the course themes and then explored Wikipedia to discover which of the works were already featured as articles. Her search led to the Wikipedia article about “The Jewish Cemetery”, a 17th century oil painting by the Dutch artist Jacob van Ruisdael.

Jessica Allison works on computer.
Jessica Allison
Image courtesy Jessica Allison, all rights reserved.

“I came across the article for the Jewish Cemetery and noticed that some of the information, especially around provenance, was not accurate or as clearly described as what we had in our database,” said Allison, Collections Database Manager. “I wanted to check the sources and make sure we could update the article to share a clearer timeline of how the painting made its way into our collection.”

Allison did just that and more, tackling the project head-on. During her participation in the Wiki Scholars course, she added nearly 3,500 words and 36 references to the article, completely transforming several existing sections and adding a new section featuring the exhibition history of the painting.

Allison, along with her colleagues, continues to engage with and learn about Wikipedia and Wikidata to understand how to make accurate and robust information about their collections more accessible to the public. She encourages other professionals across all disciplines to lend their unique expertise, noting how the awareness of and immediate access to sources can save significant research time.

“Wikipedia can be a really great source of information for users looking to know more on certain subjects, but the articles are only as good as the sources and information that someone is able to provide,” said Allison. “Having resources and professional knowledge on a subject and being able to share it in this way helps everyone.”

When reflecting on her participation in the course, Allison noted the fun of rediscovering practices she hasn’t employed since her time as an art history student.

“My favorite part about editing Wikipedia is getting to spend some time researching and writing about works in our collection and using skills I don’t often get to utilize since finishing school,” said Allison. “It is nice to slow down and learn more about a work and be able to turn that knowledge into something accessible and easy to read for the public so that they can learn more about the work as well, and maybe they’ll decide to come check out the collection in person.”

Funded by Samuel H. Kress Foundation and led by Wiki Education in fall 2023, the 10-week Art History Wiki Scholars course focused on training scholars in pre-modern European art and architecture how to add their expertise to this underdeveloped subject area on Wikipedia. The collective contributions of Allison and the other 19 course participants have been viewed on Wikipedia nearly 3 million times.


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